Donations provide new life to an old school
Wednesday, 07 November 2012 12:38

Microsoft donates to local school

by Nicole Rodman

    Though the skies outside were gloomy, ripe with the threat of Hurricane Sandy, inside of Battle Monument School on Oct. 28, the only tears were tears of joy.
    A “perfect storm” of giving came together as Virginia-based non-profit group Monkee See – Monkee Do and Microsoft came together to benefit the school’s staff and students.

First opened in 1962, Battle Monument School is a public day school for students with special needs.
    A part of the Baltimore County Public School System, the school gets some funding but, like most schools, it is not nearly enough.
    The transformation of Battle Monument began last year with a simple email from the school’s then-physical therapist, Dr. Natalie Nosal.
    Dr. Nosal wrote to Monkee See – Monkee Do, a community service organization affiliated with parenting blog Momastery, asking for assistance for her school.
    In her e-mail, Dr. Nosal wrote, “My school is doing amazing things with very limited resources. I want to cry when I think of what we could do if we had more to give to our students.”
    Though the e-mail touched the volunteers (or “monkees”) at Monkee See – Monkee Do, they wondered how they could help.
    A few months later, Monkee See – Monkee Do received another e-mail, this one from monkee Michelle Giammanco at Microsoft.
    Giammanco had spoken with her employer, and Microsoft wanted to focus their GIVE campaign efforts on a project with Monkee See – Monkee Do.
    Now in its 30th year, the Microsoft GIVE employee giving campaign has supported non-profit organizations around the world.
    According to Wes Anderson, Microsoft vice president of worldwide public sector services, Microsoft employees have donated more than $1 billion since the campaign began in 1983.
    In an interview with The Eagle last month, Anderson also noted that, since 1983, Microsoft employees have racked up more than 2.1 million volunteer hours directly working with nonprofit organizations.
    Seeing the needs of Battle Monument School and the willingness of Microsoft to help, Monkee See – Monkee Do brought the two groups together.
    The results of this collaboration (or “perfect storm” as monkee Amanda Doyle put it) is a series of renovations and donations that will change the way Battle Monument students learn.
    According to Giammanco, who was at the school on Oct. 28, after a visit to the school a few months ago, she and Microsoft knew that they had to help.
    For the past four months, a series of renovations has been in the works, with final work on the project being completed by more than 200 volunteers last month.
    With the work freshly completed, parents, students and community members got their first glimpse at the results during a rally at the school on that afternoon.
    One of the most noticeable changes is the renovation of the school’s small courtyard area.
    Volunteers re-landscaped the area, adding new flowers, trees and decorations, such as birdhouses and benches.
    Microsoft also funded the complete renovation of the school’s “Apartment 108” area.
    “Apartment 108” is a fully-functional mock-apartment, complete with kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.
    The purpose of the “apartment” is to teach domestic living skills to students, making them better able to live independently.
    Microsoft donated a completely new kitchen to the apartment, including a new stove, refrigerator, washer and dryer.
    In addition, Microsoft donated four Xbox 360 gaming systems, complete with Kinect motion detection hardware.
    Using the Kinect, students will be able to control their onscreen game characters using only their body movements.
    By working with the Kinect, students will be able to improve both cognitive and motor functions.
    Microsoft also renovated the school’s faculty room, and donated a large flat-screen LCD monitor and $21,000 to the school.
    In addition, a faculty wish list set up online allowed both employees of Microsoft and followers of the Momastery blog to purchase badly-needed supplies and have them shipped to the school.
    At a 3 p.m. rally on Oct. 28, Battle Monument principal Jerry Easterly expressed the impact of Microsoft and Monkee See – Monkee Do’s efforts at the school.
    Surrounded by many of the donated items, Easterly noted that the improvements and donations will allow for “greater independence for students at Battle Monument School.”
    A representative of Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, special assistant for education Orrester Shaw, was also on hand to present Microsoft with an Executive Citation honoring the company for its contributions to the school.
    “Microsoft gets it, they truly get it,” Shaw noted to the assembled crowd.
    Also on hand was Baltimore County School Board member Ed Parker, who offered remarks on behalf of the board.
    At the end of the often tear-jerking rally, Easterly took the opportunity to present small student-made tokens of gratitude to many of the Microsoft and Monkee See – Monkee Do volunteers who made it all possible.
    Tears shining in his eyes, Easterly concluded, “This has really reinforced the notion that there is more good in the world than bad.”